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The I-500: It’s All Left Turns From Here

By Ric Federau, Contributing Writer

When do people start thinking about the SOO I-500?  The answer is simple. Immediately the morning after the race is completed, in other words the first Sunday in Feb.  This holds true for all who religiously follow and support the spectacle known as the “ GrandDaddy” of all snowmobile races. This holds true for race fans, drivers & teams, race officials, those who have the I-500 on their bucket list and yes…. the I-500 Board of Directors as well. There are two common denominators which ties all the above categories together with a tight bond that makes the SOO I-500 a success each year.  “Anticipation “ and “ Excitement “.  The 5 – P’s are the driving force behind making the I-500 successful for everyone involved. It’s recommended that you consider utilizing them when planning to attend the race each year.  In the world of winter sports enthusiasts these 5 – P’s are:  “PROPER, PLANNING, PREVENTS, POOR, PERFORMANCE”. You can be assured, proper planning will make your visit a success that produces memories that’ll last a lifetime. So, plan accordingly to experience anticipation and excitement unlike any other event world wide.

Let’s back off the throttle a bit and take a light lap around the track together taking into consideration a few interesting facts that have made the SOO I-500 a winter sports enthusiasts vacation destination. How much do you really know about the world’s longest, fastest and toughest snowmobile endurance race? Well… start your engines, get roll’n and share some facts and I-500 information. After all… it’s anticipation and excitement that gets your motor tuned UP for this spectacle.  We’re drop’n the green flag now… let’s roll!

It doesn’t matter which of the above categories you may find yourself a part of, we all must plan accordingly in advance to make the SOO I-500 experience that lifetime memory we hold on to. As a vacation destination each year, the SOO I-500 prides itself on putting together a week-long series of events. 

DID YOU KNOW?… 70% of ALL registered snowmobiles in Michigan are trailered north for some of the best riding anywhere. 


The I-500 mission is to give winter sports enthusiasts a show that has something for everyone.  Putting on a week-long series of events takes a lot of advance planning as one might imagine.  DID YOU KNOW?… The SOO I-500 is the only professional race project that is made of community volunteers? For over fifty-three years the SOO I-500 has been totally run and managed by volunteers.  That’s unheard of within the professional sports racing arena.  The volunteerism at the SOO goes back deep into the archives of dedicated people who share family history of volunteer participation. Their efforts have become a tradition and it’s what makes the I-500 possible each year. Volunteers from the U.S. and Canada have pulled together to promote the sport of oval ice racing. Every aspect of the I-500 week-long series of events is designed to provide excitement for all ages.  Should YOU ever meet and speak with a I-500 volunteer be sure to thank them for their continued efforts and dedication to the sport in general. Their unselfish efforts of volunteerism has earned the title in the State of Michigan’s “Who’s – who” within the winter sports arena.  The title is known as “ Michigan’s Premier Winter Sporting Event “  bestowed upon the project by Michigan legislators.  Thanks to a total volunteer commitment, a strong fan base, unwavered community support and good project management over five decades, the SOO I-500 has held its own within the ranks of professional racing bar none!  Fact is… Once you’ve experienced the I-500 and its week-long series of events, there’s a good chance you’ll be back for another exciting experience that you’re sure to share with others. As us “ I-500 Junkies” say….” Once you’re caught UP in the I-500 web, you’re trapped so enjoy the ride.  “ By the way…You’ll be hard pressed to find better hospitality than what you’ll receive while visiting the SOO and I-500 event. But let me remind you once again, it takes proper planning. Regardless of what you plan on doing to attend the I-500 you MUST plan in advance. DID YOU KNOW?… Lodging for future I-500 race weeks commences immediately following the completion of the race each year. We mean.. the same night as the race! That’s right!  Loding for the I-500 is a hot-topic and needs to be addressed as soon as possible for the next race.  We suggest utilizing the 5 – P‘s  theory.

Let’s take a brief pit stop and mention a few of our 2023 week-long series of events. Each day during race week various events are held that make up our week-long schedule.  Each event is planned in advance to offer you something different each day leading up to the main I-500 race. The race historically is run the first Saturday in Feb. each year.  A single admission allows you to access all daily events throughout race week.  One of the project’s main objectives is to bond the local community with fans and race teams alike. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at such happenings. Opening day of race week has been declared by city officials as “ Bud Clarke” day.  Bud was a dedicated volunteer who’s volunteer efforts touched everyone involved for decades. Hence, the title for opening day of race week will forever be known as “ Bud Clarke day”. This day marks the time when race teams commence arriving for their week-long stay.  Once teams arrive and are placed in their position within the infield pit area, our race officials and tech crew will commence procedures for race time trials to begin.  Time trials are certainly a spectacle as well you’re certainly going to enjoy all the prep, speed and anticipation these teams are putting on display getting ready for the “GrandDaddy” on Saturday.


Another aspect of race week is the I-500 mid-week races!  Hosted Wed. and Thursday race week. These races provide spectators with a sneak preview for what lies ahead.  DID YOU KNOW?… It takes over a million and a half gallons of water to build the world’s ONLY mile oval ice track here at Sault Ste.Marie. It’s the ONLY mile oval ice track in North America. It’s the one everyone wants to win!  Water is distributed by semi-tractor trailers which hold 5,000. to 8,000 gallons of water.  Watering the track commences as soon as the ground is frozen and packed.  Volunteers put down water around the clock leading up to the main event. As you can imagine, the track is smooth and flat. This allows the I-500 to let the public ice-skate on it one night during race week.  Can you imagine ice-skating on the world’s largest ice rink? There’s no charge for skating and it’s a family involvement enjoyed by hundreds each year. Fun for the whole family!

Another unique family involvement is the famous I-500 Kids Mini-Z race.  This is a great event for youth involvement. The I-500 builds a special track for little kids to race on. Our main event track officials officiate this outstanding event.  It’s hosted under the lights and trophies are provided for all participants.  It’s simply a great youth event and has actually become a “feeder system” for our main I-500 race over the decades.

It’s something you’ll want to see and…. you can enter your children. Visit our website (www.i-500.com) for more information.

Also… there’s more! On Tuesday evening during race week you can spectate or participate in the 3rd. annual I-500 Corn-hole tourney. Hosted in the Dream Makers room at Kewadin Casino. Prizes are awarded and entry fee is minimal. Bring your pal and sign UP!  It’s another outstanding event during race week that’s gaining a lot of attention. Check it out!

DID YOU KNOW? The I-500 hosts one of the mid-west most impressive beauty pageants.  Friday evening before the main I-500 race, Kewadin Casino hosts this outstanding pageant.  It’s a Vegas type show displaying a lot of talent and fun for the whole family. There’s no charge to attend and it’s certainly a fun time for all. The pageant has a youth class aka “Junior Miss I-500” as well as a teenage category. This pageant is special  as it portrays beauty that is built from within and not simply skin deep. It’s a pageant designed to help young ladies become productive adults. The talent is outstanding and the show is one you won’t want to miss.

More information is available for entry on our website at : www.i-500.com


DID YOU KNOW?… The SOO I-500 was spawned when a few local SOO guys were sitting in a local restaurant which was located across the street from a auto dealership. The dealer had a 1968 Chevy Camero on display.  It happened to be the official pace car of the Indy 500 automobile race.  One of the guys said… “ Think we could run a snowmobile 500 miles?”  The I-500 was spawned!  Becoming the most prestigious snowmobile race in the world, the BIG one, the one all OEM and drivers want to win. The stage was set as the local people and commercial businesses got behind the idea. In the early years the I-500 had triple digit numbers of participants whereby top speeds were in the low to mid 30mph. area. Through the evolution of snowmobile development the OEM are producing race sleds designed around the famous I-500 oval mile.

 Race teams are now qualifying at speeds in excess of 100 mph. DID YOU KNOW?…  There are many teams who try to qualify and do not make the starting grid. Today a full starting grid of I-500 sleds racing is 38.

I-500 participants come from throughout the U.S. and Canada. The economic impact is felt throughout the U.P. and as far south as Gaylord, Michigan. The event generates much needed revenue for the whole State of Michigan by enhancing tourism. In addition the I-500 brings out of state corporate exchange to Michigan from major manufactures.  It goes without saying the I-500 is a mainstay in Michigan’s economic base, surviving decades of economic stress.  Simply put…. the SOO I-500 is “ Pure-Michigan”.

As we approach the finish line of this article, it’s important to once again recognize the efforts to make this world class event possible by its volunteer base committed to their passion for hosting the I-500.

Their selfless efforts are immeasurable in terms of expressing what they’ve done for decades and are continuing to do.  The integrity of local people and commercial businesses is obvious in the results experienced by thousands of visitors who keep returning and bringing others to share in the experience.  The gracious Sault Ste. Marie hospitality welcomes visitors into their world in an effort to share experiences with winter sports enthusiasts who embark on the city one week a year.  There’s nothing like the SOO I-500 anywhere else in the world and there’s no place in the world with volunteers like the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan community.

“Come on UP” and experience thrills that build memories and will keep you coming back for more. Welcome to the “SOO I-500” web, enjoy the ride. But don’t forget your 5-P’s.

For more information, visit our website at: www.i-500.com, visit us on I-500 F.B. and instagram.


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